The most controversial line-up changes in rock history

28 January 2024, 11:00

Famous musicians who were swapped out...  Buckethead of Guns N'Roses, Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones and Pete Best of The Beatles
Famous musicians who were swapped out... Buckethead of Guns N'Roses, Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones and Pete Best of The Beatles. Picture: PA Images/MediaPunch Inc/LANDMARK MEDIA/Alamy Stock Photo

Things change... particularly in the high-flying world of the music biz. What happens when personnel changes mark a milestone in a band's career?

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Can a famous act weather a line-up change? Here are some bands that did...

  1. Guns N'Roses

    Before: Rose, Slash, McKagan, Alder and Stradlin.

    Guns N'Roses in August 1987: Duff McKagan, Slash, Axl Rose, Izzy Stradlin, Steven Adler
    Guns N'Roses in August 1987: Duff McKagan, Slash, Axl Rose, Izzy Stradlin, Steven Adler. Picture: Paul Natkin/Getty Images

    The "classic" GNR line-up of Axl Rose, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler only lasted for two albums: Appetite For Destruction and GN'R Lies. Adler's substance abuse led him to be fired in 1990, Stradlin quit a year later and Slash eventually walked out in '96, with McKagan following the year after that. Between 2000 and 2004, Slash was replaced by the infamous Buckethead, but in 2016, Slash, Rose and McKagan reunited for the Not In This Lifetime tour. Hooray!

    After: the Buckethead years, 2001

    Buckethead - Solo with the Guns N' Roses

  2. Nirvana

    Before: with Dale Crover

    Nirvana - Blew - Seattle 1990 W/Dale Crover

    Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic worked with a number of different drummers until they finally settled on Dave Grohl in 1990. Chad Channing ppeared on their debut single Love Buzz, while Mudhoney's Dan Peters drummed on the follow-up, Sliver. Dale Crover was the last drummer before the Grohlmeister stepped up.

    After: with Dave Grohl

    Nirvana - Breed (Live At The Paramount/1991)

  3. Stereophonics

    Before: with Stuart Cable

    Stereophonics in February 1998: Kelly Jones, Stuart Cable and Richard Jones.
    Stereophonics in February 1998: Kelly Jones, Stuart Cable and Richard Jones. Picture: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images

    The original trio was Kelly Jones, Richard Jones and Stuart Cable. However, drummer Cable was fired in 2003 due to "lack of commitment" and replaced by Javier Weyler. Cable went on to forge a successful career in the media, before his untimely death in 2010 at the age of 40. The current line-up features Adam Zindani on guitar and Jamie Morrison on drums.

  4. The Beatles

    Before: with Pete Best

    The Beatles circa 1961:  Paul McCartney, Pete Best, George Harrison and John Lennon.
    The Beatles circa 1961: Paul McCartney, Pete Best, George Harrison and John Lennon. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    The most famous - and notorious - line-up change in history. The Beatles went through a number of drummers in their early days, but Pete Best was a fan favourite and stayed with the band through their formative years in Liverpool and Hamburg. However, shortly after they were signed to the Parlophone label, Best was unceremoniously sacked in favour of Ringo Starr and The Fab Four were complete. Were they jealous of Pete's good looks? Was he not that good a drummer? The debate has rumbled on for 60 years...

    After: with Ringo Starr

    The Beatles in 1962: Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison.
    The Beatles in 1962: Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Picture: Harry Hammond/V&A Images/Getty Images
  5. The Rolling Stones

    Before: with Brian Jones in 1965

    The Rolling Stones - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (Charlie is my Darling: Ireland 1965)

    On 9 June 1969, Mick Taylor was officially announced as the replacement for Brian Jones in The Rolling Stones. The increasingly erratic Jones found himself being eased out of the group by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, so Taylor was seen as a more reliable guitarist. He lasted until the end of 1974, when he was permanently replaced by former Faces man Ronnie Wood, who is still with them to this day. Jones died in 1969 after drowning in a swimming pool at his home in East Sussex.

    After: with Mick Taylor in 1972

    The Rolling Stones - Brown Sugar (Live) - OFFICIAL

  6. The xx

    Before: with Baria Qureshi

    The XX - Stars, Live @ Metropolis Festival Rotterdam 2009

    The xx were originally a quartet: Romy Madely Croft, Oliver Sim, Jamie Smith and guitarist/keyboard player Baria Qureshi, who performed and co-wrote the music on the band's acclaimed debut album, xx. But Qureshi left the band in late 2009, with Croft telling the NME: "I guess 'personal differences' would be the standard way to say it. I guess it's just the intensity of being on tour, things are so much heightened."

    However, speaking to the French site Green Room in 2017, Qureshi had a different view on the matter, claiming there were "tensions around money. The decision did not come from me, I was released without warning, and without a clear explanation."

    After: Romy, Oliver and Jamie xx

    The xx - Islands (Official Video)

  7. The Cure

    Before: Robert Smith, Michael Dempsey and Lol Tolhurst in 1979

    The Cure - 10.15 Saturday Night

    The Cure are something of a soap opera when it comes to band members. Robert Smith is the only remaining original member; bassist Simon Gallup has been with the band since their second album, but left for a couple of years in the mid 1980s. Original drummer Lol Tolhurst switched to keyboards in 1982, and was "let go" in 1989 before the release of the classic Disintegration. Current drummer Jason Cooper is a mere newbie, having only been with the band since 1996.

    After: Robert Smith, Simon Gallup, Reeves Gabrels, Roger O'Donnell and Jason Cooper in 2019

    The Cure - A Forest (live at Pinkpop 2019)

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